SAN DIEGO — Schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and kids are spending more time than ever at home and online.
“With everyone distancing themselves physically, there’s more of a tendency to reach out for some sort of social connection via the internet,” Special Agent Renee Green with San Diego’s FBI branch said.
The FBI warns online predators are looking to exploit kids home from school.
“It’s difficult for parents at this time because many of us are being advised to work from home, and when we’re working from home we’re not able to give as much attention to our children as we would during our leisure time,” Green said.
Authorities are working to remind families that online sexual exploitation comes in different forms. Predators will ask children for sexually explicit photos or videos — then possibly threaten to publicly post those images in order to get more.
Offenders can start seemingly innocent online chats that escalate with sexual and abusive language. Authorities warn those chats could lead to a child agreeing to meet with a predator in person.
“When parents are able to engage with their children and have them use devices in common areas of the house versus taking devices into a bedroom or a separate room, children are less likely to engage with predators or take pictures they wouldn’t show their parents,” Green said.
The FBI encourages parents to keep open communication with their kids, stay engaged with their online activity and watch for physical and emotional signs of distress.
”Typically when children are being exploited online, they tend to feel they’re alone and this is something that’s only happening to them,” Green said. “That’s why we’re encouraging people to tell their kids that these sorts of online behaviors are not the child’s fault and they will not get in trouble for reporting it to a trusted adult.”
Click here for more information from the FBI on protecting children from online exploitation.